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Everton 0 Arsenal 1: Thomas Vermaelen hits the heights as Gunners leapfrog Spurs

Everton 0 Arsenal 1: Vermaelen hits the heights as Gunners leapfrog Spurs



23:24 GMT, 21 March 2012

It was all in his smile. After a season when he has often appeared persecuted and browbeaten, Arsene Wenger had a look on Wednesday night that confirmed he is happy and content once more.

He has good reason to be. Though Wenger must wait another 12 months before he can end Arsenal’s trophy drought, it appears increasingly likely that he will lead his club back into the Champions League once more.

In beating a typically energetic Everton side 1-0 at Goodison Park, Arsenal not only showed a side to their play that many felt was lacking, they struck a huge psychological blow in leaping above Tottenham to grab third place in the Barclays Premier League.

No doubting Thomas: Vermaelen nods Arsenal in front with a powerful header from Robin van Persie's corner

No doubting Thomas: Vermaelen nods Arsenal in front with a powerful header from Robin van Persie's corner


Everton: Howard, Hibbert, Heitinga, Distin, Baines, Pienaar, Fellaini, Osman (Gueye 78), Drenthe (Anichebe 78), Cahill (Stracqualursi 87), Jelavic. Subs not used: Mucha, Jagielka, McFadden, Neville.

Booked: Cahill.

Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Gibbs, Walcott (Gervinho 79), Arteta, Song, Ramsey, Rosicky (Djourou 87), Van Persie. Subs not used: Fabianski, Andre Santos, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Chamakh, Benayoun.

Booked: Sagna.

Scorer: Vermaelen 8.

Referee: Lee Mason.

Attendance: 30,330.

What a turnaround. When they drew 0-0
at Bolton on February 1, Arsenal were 12 points behind their neighbours
and seemingly going nowhere in seventh spot. Now, after Thomas
Vermaelen’s header extended their winning sequence to a sixth game, they
appear unstoppable.

‘We were resilient, focused and had a
great desire to defend,’ said Wenger. ‘You’ve seen a side of us that
usually people don’t know but it was the only way to get a result. We
have learned in the last month. We have taken six points on Merseyside
in two weeks, 180 minutes of intense fight.

‘We have to keep on fighting for each other, retain our humility and not think that the job is done because it isn’t. I was always optimistic because if you look at our results since October we’ve had only had one bad spell when we had no full backs. We needed to be strong.’

Fortune may have been on Arsenal’s side – they benefited from a dreadful decision by assistant referee Mike Flynn in the first half that deprived Everton winger Royston Drenthe of a legitimate goal.

Flynn was same official who enraged Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson earlier in the season when awarding Newcastle a penalty at Old Trafford and David Moyes was similarly aghast by his performance. In some way, though, Arsenal earned their good fortune.

On target: Vermaelen salutes the travelling fans

On target: Vermaelen salutes the travelling fans

They should have been in front after six minutes. Mikel Arteta, returning to Goodison for the first time since his 10million move last August, clipped a ball into Robin van Persie, who unselfishly headed down to Aaron Ramsey only for the Welshman to skew his shot high and wide.

It was a dreadful miss but the manner in which Arsenal created the chance had set the tone. In the next attack, Sylvain Distin had to fling himself in front of a blockbuster from Ramsey but the reprieve was only temporary. Van Persie swung in the resulting corner and, unopposed, Vermaelen, who marked his Arsenal debut with a goal on this ground in August 2009, rose highest in between the static Marouane Fellaini and Nikica Jelavic to power a firm header past Tim Howard.

Through the gap: Steven Pienaar dodges Alex Song and Bacary Sagna

Through the gap: Steven Pienaar dodges Alex Song and Bacary Sagna

Goodison usually comes to life on nights like this but the home crowd was stunned into silence by what they were seeing. Sensing that their hosts were vulnerable, Arsenal steamed forward at every opportunity, shooting whenever an opening presented itself.

First van Persie tested Howard. Tomas Rosicky went close. Even Kieran Gibbs, playing almost as a left winger, attempted to get in on the act.

While Arsenal’s play was slick, this was
a pale shadow of the Everton side that had overpowered Manchester City,
Chelsea and Tottenham in their last three homes games and Moyes’ body
language – all shrugs and headshakes – told the story.

Denied: Tomas Rosicky sees his effort saved by Tim Howard

Denied: Tomas Rosicky sees his effort saved by Tim Howard

They barely raised a gallop in the first 30 minutes yet, ironically, they could consider themselves unlucky not to restore parity after the half-hour when Drenthe was wrongly adjudged to be offside after beating Wojciech Szczesny from eight yards.

'There were five decisions that were
wrong,’ said Moyes. ‘It was a goal. We have had a raw deal with some
poor decisions against us recently. This has cost us. In the first 20
minutes I thought “goodness me” but we came back into it after that.’

Moyes is never afraid to tear a strip
off his players and the way in which they began the second period gave
the impression that he had delivered a few home truths at half-time.

Familiar face: Mikel Arteta made his return to Goodison Park

Familiar face: Mikel Arteta made his return to Goodison Park

Everton are never better than when
they are pressing and playing at a high tempo and both those traits were
evident straight away. Fellaini, anxious to atone for his part in the
goal, went close with a header from a Leighton Baines free-kick.

Though Szczesny dealt comfortably
with it, suddenly there was passion in the hitherto muted stands and
the players began to feed off the supporters’ energy. Fellaini made
himself a nuisance, popping up in all corners of the pitch.

But no matter what Everton tried,
Arsenal stood firm and they finished the stronger and should have had a
second goal when Van Persie blazed over following a good work by
substitute Gervinho.

Aerial battle: Leon Osman and Alex Song tussle

Aerial battle: Leon Osman and Alex Song tussle

‘If we’d scored the second goal it would maybe have been a psychological blow to Everton,’ said Wenger. ‘But they came back into the game. Credit to them. In the second half we hung on until the last 15 minutes when we started to create chances again. Now we have confidence.’

And, most crucially, control of their destiny.

IN FOCUS by John Edwards

Howard Kendall: The former Everton midfielder and manager, now 65, was caught on camera before kick-off deep in conversation with friends. He is a frequent visitor to Goodison Park and was on hand to offer his support again.

Mikel Arteta: When the teams were read out, loud cheers all round greeted the name of Arsenal’s summer buy on his return to Goodison Park.

Leighton Baines: Everton’s England defender continued his remarkable run. He was playing at left back for a 97th consecutive game, having played every minute of the previous 96.

Newcastle 14 Northampton 32: Saints go third after Foden brace clips Falcons" wings

Newcastle 14 Northampton 32: Saints go third after Foden brace clips Falcons” wings

Northampton moved up to third place in the Aviva Premiership with a five-point bonus win against beleagueredNewcastle Falcons at Kingston Park.

England full-back Ben Foden scored two cleverly worked tries at the start of each half to put the Saints in the driving seat.

Giant prop Soane Tonga”uiha was driven over for the visitors” third while former Falcons man Tom May delivered the fourth try – and the bonus point – four minutes from time with his first touch after coming on as a late replacement.

Double trouble: Northampton

Double trouble: Northampton”s Ben Foden, who scored twice against Newcastle, is held up

Victory sees Northampton leapfrog from sixth to third and leaves Newcastle firmly anchored at the foot of the table which makes next weekend”s home game against Exeter a must-win for the Falcons.

Ryan Lamb kicked two conversions and two penalties and substitute Stephen Myler also landed a conversion while Jimmy Gopperth kicked three penalties for Newcastle.

Suka Hufanga scored a first half try Northampton were 10-0 up in as many minutes against a Newcastle side who are notoriously slow starters and the Saints scored their first try with embarrassing ease after Lamb”s fourth-minute penalty.

On target: Ryan Lamb kicks a penalty for Northampton

On target: Ryan Lamb kicks a penalty for Northampton

The try came from Newcastle”s inability to win hardly anything at the line-out – they lost five out of eight of their own throws in the first half – and the real surprise was the Saints only made it really count when a slick move saw George Pisi push an excellent rolling kick behind the Falcons defence and the ball stood up nicely for Foden to cruise in at the corner, Lamb converting.

Gopperth”s inside break and Hufanga”s fast feet had Saints backpedalling and Ally Hogg”s drive brought a penalty which Gopperth knocked over in the 14th minute.

Another Gopperth inside break sent Hufanga racing in for a 20th-minute Falcons try.

Gopperth surprisingly missed the conversion but, trailing by just two points, Newcastle were back in the game.

No way through: Newcastle prop Taiasana Tu

No way through: Newcastle prop Taiasana Tu”ifua is tackled by Northampton”s Courtney Lawes

However, their inability to win any consistent line-out ball was a persistent problem and Newcastle spent most of the time in their own half.

Despite that, all Northampton had to show for all their possession was Lamb”s 31st-minute penalty and in a rare period of Falcons pressure, winger Scott Armstrong was in his own 22 and conceded a 36th minute penalty which Gopperth kicked to bring the hosts to within two points again.

Newcastle edged into the lead for the first time when Gopperth landed his third penalty early in the second half – but it did not last long with Foden grabbing his second try in the 49th minute.

Bad end to the year: Newcastle boss Alan Tait looks on

Bad end to the year: Newcastle boss Alan Tait looks on

It was almost a replica of his first half score, with Lamb this time pushing a rolling kick through and Foden surged after it – leaving flanker Richard Mayhew trailing to touch down in the corner.

Lamb squeezed over the conversion for the Saints to lead 20-14. It was the signal for Northampton to turn the screw and from a lineout Soane Tonga”uiha was driven over in the 56th minute for 25-14.

Had Vasily Artemyev been able to hang on to Lamb”s lovely crossfield kick it would have been another try just a few minutes later.

Gopperth”s 66th-minute penalty miss just about summed up Newcastle”s afternoon and they lost Tim Swinson to the sin-bin for a high tackle – and in the last 10 minutes Northampton did pretty much as they pleased.

There were plenty of gaps appearing and Northampton”s fourth try came from some slick inter-passing down the right, Tom May scoring with his almost his first touch after coming on as replacement in the 77th minute.

It was enough to secure the four-try bonus point – and Stephen Myler converted.

Thomas Rogne is sure Celtic hold the title aces

Rogne is sure that Bhoys hold
the title aces now

Thomas Rogne insisted the destiny of the SPL title is back in Celtic”s own hands after their astonishing fightback from the dead.

The Norwegian defender says victory over Rangers at Parkhead on Wednesday night – after Neil Lennon”s men whittled away their great rivals” 15-point lead to just one – would not only see Celtic leapfrog the champions at the summit for the start of 2012 but place extreme psychological pressure on Ally McCoist”s team.

Leap of faith: Thomas Rogne challenges St Johnstone

Leap of faith: Thomas Rogne challenges St Johnstone”s David McCracken

The Parkhead side approach the derby in search of their ninth successive SPL win since a goalless draw with Hibs in October.

In contrast, the champions have looked shaky in losing two of their last five games, with shock defeats at Kilmarnock and St Mirren.

Following Celtic”s 2-1 win against Killie on Christmas Eve, coupled with Rangers” 2-1 loss in Paisley the same day, 21-year-old Rogne believes the time is right for Lennon”s men to overtake the Ibrox men.

“The results on December 24 were the best Christmas present we could get. Everything is in our hands now,” he said.

“Suddenly, we are just one point behind Rangers and their lead has been reversed pretty fast.

“This Old Firm game is very important, not just because we can go top of the table, but it”s also crucial for the rest of the season. Psychologically, this game means a lot in terms of how the battle between the two teams will go.”

Rogne dropped out of the Celtic line-up last month due to a hamstring injury but is now back fully fit, replacing Daniel Majstorovic after the Swede broke his cheekbone against St Johnstone and coming on as a late substitute against Kilmarnock.

Feeling the heat: Ally McCoist

Feeling the heat: Ally McCoist

The Norwegian international believes he is now back to his best and feels he could be in line for an Old Firm start.

“Even though I was only in the treatment room for two to three weeks, it was long enough for others to come into the team and they did well,” added Rogne.

“That meant I lost my place but now Daniel Majstorovic is injured, so it could be I get a chance. I feel I”m back to where I was before I was injured and that my form is pretty good.

“I came on against Kilmarnock in the final few minutes to help us secure victory. It was a difficult game and, although it was an exciting final few minutes (after Kilmarnock scored), I felt we were always in control.

“It was a bit unusual to be playing on Christmas Eve but it is a lot easier to enjoy the festivities when you win.

“My family are here in Scotland, so afterwards it was dinner and traditional Norwegian Christmas.”

Meanwhile, reports in Belgium claim Celtic are tracking Groningen defender Jonas Ivens as they ponder options for centre-back reinforcements in next month”s transfer window.

Ivens moved to Holland from Mechelen last year and is rated in the 1million bracket.